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By Thomas Wheeler

It looks like more Battle Packs have been released as part of the new Clone Wars series, although the more realistically-styled Star Wars toys are continuing under the name "Legacy Collection", including this HOTH SPEEDER BIKE PATROL BATTLE PACK set.

Consider for a moment the Battle of Hoth. It was at the outset of "The Empire Strikes Back". The Rebel Alliance had set up a base on the frozen world, and the Imperial forces had found out about it, and ultimately leveled the place after a fierce battle which prominently featured the gargantuan AT-AT's, the Imperial Walkers.

Now, we never saw Speeder Bikes in that battle. Our first look at those vehicles was on the forest moon of Endor, during "Return of the Jedi". But in fairness, it's entirely possible that there were Speeder Bikes on Hoth. There's no reason to believe that we saw the ENTIRE battlefield, which was pretty well spread out over a wide open frozen plain. And the attention was certainly focused on the Imperial AT-AT Walkers, monstrous mechanical beasts larger than a lot of known species of dinosaur. Hey, when you're trying to take down a couple of those things, who's got time to worry about a few Speeder Bikes!?

Plus the fact that this set is described as a Hoth Speeder Bike PATROL. Look, there's only so much information you can get electronically. It always helps to have someone on the ground. Those Speeder Bikes might have been pinpointing the location of the Rebel Base and gotten out of there before the battle began in earnest -- or before they accidentally got stepped on.

Whatever the case, this is a very cool set. Even the package design is impressive, and I don't usually pay a lot of attention to that sort of thing. The package has a backdrop of the Hoth battlefield, with an AT-AT in the distance firing at the Rebel base. The two Speeder Bike drivers are mounted on their bikes, and in what I think is a very clever and subtle bit of marketing, their heads are turned to be FACING OUT, looking at whoever happens to pick up their box. It's like, "Hey, buy us and give us a home!"

Within the Star Wars universe, there are quite a variety of Speeder Bikes. However, the one most commonly used by the Empire, and which was first seen in "Return of the Jedi", is officially known as the 74-Z Speeder Bike. It was manufactured by Aratech Repulsor Company and was intended primarily for reconnaissance purposes, as well as rapid transportation in combat zones.

Speeder Bikes were capable of reaching speeds up to and beyond five hundred kilometers per hour, and had a flight ceiling of twenty-five meters (which explains why they didn't just fly above the trees on Endor). 74-Zs were the military variant of the civilian 74-Y. They were controlled by handlebars located towards the front of the vehicle, and foot pedals slung underneath adjusted speed and altitude.

The highly maneuverable vehicles were equipped with sensor and communications devices located between the handlebars, including a comlink and a comlink-jamming device. They were armed with a forward rotating blaster cannon for combat.

Toywise, the Speeder Bikes have been around since 1983, when they were released as part of the original Return of the Jedi toyline. The molds have changed little since then, since really, the original Speeder Bike was arguably one of the most accurate vehicles produced in the original Star Wars line, although it did have a slightly annoying "self-destruct" feature.

Indeed, the Speeder Bikes that come with this Hoth Patrol set bear a copyright date of 1995 and are credited to Tonka. The self-destruct feature seems to have been removed -- thankfully. The main difference is with regard to color. The Speeder Bikes which we saw in Return of the Jedi had a coppery-brown body. These, understandably, for use on Hoth, have mostly white bodies.

The two Speeder Bikes have a certain amount of silver "weathering" on them, which I could honestly do without, but this is not unusual for Star Wars items. What's mildly interesting is to see how the detail has been applied. It was clearly painted on by hand, because although the basic placement of the detail is the same, the specifics do differ. There might be a set of silver streaks on the front vanes of the Speeder Bikes, and they might be the same in number and, more or less, shape and length, but they are not precisely identical.

There is one little assembly glitch that I would like to address, which can be easily corrected by the purchaser. The Speeder Bikes as they come will not stand up on their own two legs very well. This can be fixed. Please take note of the rear flaps. There is a peg on each of these flaps, and you will notice that the legs on each side some up to these flaps, and there is a hook, of sorts, on the leg. Snap the legs to the peg on the underside of each rear flap. This will create a certain resistance with the flaps and the legs that will allow the Speeder Bikes to stand on a level surface, pointed slightly upwards -- which looks a whole lot better than seemingly collapsed under their own weight.

The Speeder Bikes gave a generous amount of moving parts for such a relatively small vehicle, especially one that really is derived from the original line. Measuring a fraction over 8 inches in length, the Speeder Bikes have moving legs and flaps, moving handlebars, and a moving blaster on the underside. They really are very nice and superbly made vehicles.

The painted detail is outstanding, weathering aside, with a pewter color over the control panel, painted dials and buttons in black and red, a black seat, and the Imperial symbol on the left rear fender.

Now, we come to the two Imperial Scouts that are supplied with this set. I admit, I tend to like most Clone Troopers and Stormtroopers. But when the Biker Scouts first appeared in Return of the Jedi, they seemed to be a lot of people's favorites. Including mine. And, of course, in more recent years, we saw the basic design of the Biker Scout overhauled for one of the prequels, Revenge of the Sith. So we know the basic design existed before Return of the Jedi.

What we have here in the Imperials provided with this set is what I would have to call Snow Scouts. They're a very interesting combination of Biker Scout and Imperial Snowtroopers, who were also introduced in The Empire Strikes Back during the Battle of Hoth.

The Biker Scouts wore limited white armor with a black undersuit. This time around,the undersuit is a pale grey, although their armor is still white. And clearly their helmets are identical to Biker Scouts, as is their chest armor. However, their arms and lower legs are taken directly from the Imperial Snowtroopers! They have the heavier shoulder pads and the thicker boots. This surprised me, because I didn't really think that Star Wars figures were standardized enough to combine parts like this. However, clearly, they were in this case, and the results are spectacular.

What has been created here is an almost-new trooper division that combined two distinct specialties within the Imperial military forces -- the fast-driving capability of the Biker Scouts with the cold-weather specialty of the Snowtroopers. And if you think about it, this is precisely what such a combination would look like. I wonder if Hasbro showed these designs to LucasFilm and they started kicking themselves for not putting something like this in one of the movies.

The two Hoth Scouts don't have a lot of painted detail, as most of their parts are molded in the requisite color -- either white or light grey, bit where there is painted detail, mostly on the arms and legs and a bit on the torso and belt, I am pleased to say that it is all very neatly done. Weathering is limited to the boots, thankfully, and a tiny scuff on the side of the helmet. As before, I could've done without this.

Articulation is superb. These Hoth Scouts are articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles, with a wide range of motion at most points. I was glad to get them out of their package and off their bikes, and I suspect they were glad, too, since their left feet were actually turned inwards. That just looked painful.

Out of necessity, to be able to sit on the Speeder Bikes, the two figures have a sort of "action" pose to their legs, but it's not too bad. Certainly they're not bow-legged or anything, and they look perfectly fine standing up as well as seated on their bikes.

Really, I can't commend Hasbro highly enough for coming up with this interesting new "combined" trooper concept. These are really great figures.

The package that this set comes in gives a brief profile explaining as best as it can their otherwise unseen presence on Hoth: The Rebels establish Echo Base on the cold and inhospitable planet of Hoth. When an Imperial probe droid locates the base, Darth Vader's Death Squadron arrives with AT-AT walkers, snowtroopers, and scout troopers, who pour over the icy landscape to attack the valiant Rebels. As large weapons blaze the base, scout troopers provide mobile reinforcements for the invading stormtroopers.

In other words, probably something along the lines of, "Yeah, okay, you guys in the AT-ATs go on ahead. We'll be over here if you need us -- behind these great big rocks..."

The specific profile for the Scout Troopers reads: Scout troopers wear special armor designed for the cold climate. They patrol the area on speeder bikes to keep track of the Rebels' movements.

These Hoth Scouts are hardly helpless, though. There are additional accessories in the set, including two small pistols and two larger blaster pistols. I don't see any holsters on the figures, however. And I'm not sure it's a good idea to drive and shoot at the same time, although there certainly was no shortage of that in the movies.

So, what's my final word here? How about "Fantastic!" There's so much Star Wars merchandise around these days, and as cool as most of it is, I simply do not have the means to own all of it. So I have to be pretty selective. Clone Troopers, Stormtroopers, and their various variations, will tend to attract my attention. And this looked like a very cool set just in the box. It's even cooler when you get it out of the box and realize that you have two very cool and distinctive Speeder Bikes, and two very cool and very distinctive Imperial troopers.

With all the wide variety of new Star Wars merchandise presently being made available, you should certainly make it a point to track down the HOTH SPEEDER BIKE PATROL Set! It's really an amazing item, and it definitely has my highest enthusiastic recommendation!